In an old copy of The Ark, from October 1939 in fact, there is mention
of a blessing of pet dogs given by a Fr Bernard Whelan on 16 August at the
church of St Thomas More, Swiss Cottage, London. The day chosen is the feast of
St Roch, reputed to be fed by bread brought to him in prison by a dog.
Apparently it was common to bless animals on St Hubert’s Day in France and
Belgium, and even throughout Mexico, according to an account in the December
1942 issue of The Ark. There animals of all sorts poured into the church top be
blessed by the priest as being God’s gifts to man. Then, in the issue of April
1947, is an account of an animal blessing service at the church of St Eusebio in
Rome. This took place every year on 17 January, the feast of St Antonio Abbate.
This saint, who is believed to have lived in AD 250, gave up his wealth by
distributing his money amongst the poor and leading a life of total seclusion.
Legend has it that the devil, disguised in the shape of an animal, tempted
Antonio several times, with no success. Presumably the blessing of animals was
something to do with averting any recurrence of that nature.
We read that every half hour, the courtyard, or piazza, in front of the
ancient church, fills up with animals of all sorts – ‘the beautifully kept pair
of horses belonging to a Roman prince stand side by side with the depressed
steed of a vegetable seller’. Donkeys too, are there, along with cats, sporting
large bows around their necks, rabbits, dogs of all sizes, and an excited crowd
of Romans. The priest emerges, with his acolyte, from the loggia, reads the
appropriate prayers, and gives the blessing. Then this congregation leaves and
is quickly replaced with another until the bells of Rome ring at midday and the
gun from the Janiculum is fired for the Angelus. Have any readers accounts of
blessing services even earlier than this one? And does anyone know if these
continue at St Eusebio’s?
Here are accounts of just some of the services brought to the Editor’s
attention that took place last St Francistide. There were many more, and readers
are invited to send in short accounts of ones they experienced or organised,
soon after they take place each year.
As I pull into Highlands Hammock State park, the feeling of being in a
tropical paradise is unmistakable. On each side of the small wooden stage are
massive oak trees, their thick branches covered with living ferns. Palms
surround an open field, and I can smell the pines that dot the playground behind
This evening is the first annual blessing service of animals organised by
Heaven’s Gate Animal Ministries, in Sebring, Florida. Fr Gonzales, from St
Catherine’s Parish, Revd Andy Conyer, from Unity Church, and Gail Leavitt,
animal chaplain from HGAM, are our officiating ministers. Gail arrives early and
excitedly tells me about seeing a rainbow on the way over – God’s covenant with
man and animals bringing us hope that someday we will live in a cruelty-free
world. Marvene McPhee, the Director of our local Humane Society who has been
instrumental in turning our local Humane Society into a no-kill shelter, also
At 6 o’clock we begin with about 60 participants. Larry McCandless sings the
‘Unicorn Song’ by the Irish Rovers, a lively but rather sad song about how the
unicorn missed the boat during the flood. Gail explains World Animal Day, and
Marvene McPhee says a few words about the Humane Society, and reminds us to
remember the homeless animals in our prayers.
Fr Gonzales, Revd Andy, and Chaplain Gail talk about celebrating animal life
in all its forms, and humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom. God
saved the animals from the flood, and they also share in Christ’s Redemption.
The diverse roles animals play in our lives is mentioned, and thanks is given
for their companionship and emotional support.
After the personal blessing of each animal, candles are handed out and lit,
while encouraging words are spoken. After the service, people talk and mill
around, admiring each others pets. Revd Andy went over to two people who were
standing under a spreading oak tree with their pair of Rottweilers, to make sure
their dogs received a personal blessing. As the dogs could not mix with some of
the smaller, frail and elderly dogs, they had kept them apart.
Our focus today was on the beautiful companion animals, but let’s not forget
their caretakers. Animals are not just here for us to use, and throw away. To my
animal-loving friends all over the world, whose furniture is always covered in
fur, who give their time, their money and their hearts to help these innocent
ones, I say, when some one asks you ‘ How can you do it?’ to just reply ‘How can
you not?’ Donnalee Hilden
Park Gate, Hampshire
Our Animal Blessing Service was started three years ago by Fr James Boyle, a
Mill Hill Missionary who had served the parish of St Margaret Mary for the best
part of 20 years. The people in the parish were dismayed when he was transferred
to Belfast, and we thought that this could be the end of this service. We were
delighted when our new priest, Fr John Cooke, enthusiastically supported it.
Although the service had no media advertising, the numbers were up on last
year, partly boosted by a group from the Christian Ecology Group, in nearby
Fareham. Of all the animals brought to the service the most impressive were Fr
John’s two small dogs who processed to the altar with him and remained there
throughout the service. They were impeccably behaved–until the other dogs were
brought up to be blessed, when they did, understandably, display a certain
amount of jealousy. At the end of the service there was a lovely demonstration
of dominion and stewardship when the children were invited up to the altar to
see the level of obedience attained by the dogs. See photo centre page.
Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
‘Open House@St Mary’s’ is an informal Sunday afternoon service at St Mary’s,
Charlton Kings. Most months a group of assorted children, parents and carers
meet to sing action songs, to hear a Bible story and to engage in some sort of
practical response … but in October the family congregation was completed, as
everyone bought a pet along to celebrate St Francis-tide.
Despite an eclectic mix of animals, everyone behaved beautifully, with
several larger dogs adopting kneelers as head rests and settling down, in time-honoured
fashion, to sleep through the sermon.
Each pet was blessed individually by the clergy and there were some rather
moving moments along the way, as we thanked God for much loved animal friends
who had died, and asked his blessing on one or two who were too poorly to
The curate, Revd Kathryn Fleming, admitted to being profoundly relieved that
no snakes appeared–but was glad that at last she had managed to bless a rat–and
even more relieved that said rat was not mistaken for tea by her own Jack
Humans and animals alike seemed delighted to be together in God’s house and
the final chorus of ‘If I were a butterfly’ expressed our shared calling to
praise and thank God by being ourselves for Him… Kathryn Fleming
Animals were on their best behaviour when they took part in a special service
of prayers and blessings for animals at St John Vianney Church, Wantage on
Sunday 7 October.
The annual service to mark the feast day of the patron saint of animals, St
Francis of Assisi, was led by the parish priest Canon Peter Turbitt, who this
year was joined by Revd Jennifer Brown from St Clement’s Church, Oxford, with
her two cats.
The Ark’s Editor, Deborah Jones, gave the address. All the animals, like the
many people present, were quietly attentive throughout.
Led by Pollyanne, the rescued donkey from the Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary in
Brightwell cum Sotwell, and joined by Red, the ex-racehorse, as well as
chickens. dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, etc, the animals each received
individual blessings from the two priests. Said Canon Peter, ‘We were delighted
to welcome so many people with their animals – now that these animals have all
received a double blessing, I am sure they will be doubly good for the next
year’. A collection of £150 was made for the work of the Donkey Sanctuary at
Brightwell cum Sotwell. See photographs centre page. Wanda Oberman
Again the service here at St Peter in Chains was lovely, despite Fr
O’Reilly’s enforced absence. It was taken instead by Fr Stoker who welcomed each
animal and bird, and took all their names. He spoke of how, until he came to his
new parish, he had never really come into close contact with animals and had
never seen how much good animals and birds did for old and young people, and how
much they meant to individuals and families. He had seen how animals brought
people together in friendship, and the sacrifices people make for the sake of
their pets, like one elderly parishioner who gave up a last trip to Ireland so
that his dog could have an operation. We thanked God for all creatures, great
and small, and Father blessed them all by name individually and asked for
blessings on all animals in distress. See photograph, back cover Nancy
Arundel Cathedral, Sussex
The fifth animal blessing service was led by Fr Tim Madeley, Dean of the
Cathedral, and was a great success. Once again we welcomed the Mayor and
Mayoress of Arundel, also the Mayor of Littlehampton and our Town Crier, Mrs A.
Standing. All Arundel churches took part. The Revd David Clifton’s address was
very well received. You can read it below. The cathedral choir was in good
voice, as was our singer Gloria Macari. Adele Mathieu made a superb poster and
is a very valuable member of our team. I do thank the supporters who came once
again, with some coming many miles to be with us. The local papers were with us
and I thank them for giving their time, especially as Saturdays are very busy
for them. The proceeds went to Compassion in World Farming. See photograph,
centre page. Meryl Tookaram
Return to: Number 208 -